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Large explosion rocks warehouse as thousands of ethnic Armenians start to flee disputed enclave

ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- A large explosion has reportedly torn through a fuel store being used by ethnic Armenia refugees amidst their exodus from the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Thousands of ethnic Armenians have started fleeing from Nagorno-Karabakh following Azerbaijan’s successful military offensive to retake control of the region last week.

The explosion occurred at a fuel depot close to the Stepanakert-Askeran highway that leads from the enclave's capital, according to the enclave’s ethnic Armenian authorities. The explosion caused a large fire, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Local authorities said casualties and injuries were still being recorded, but local media reported it was feared dozens could be dead and injured.

Gas was reportedly being handed out to refugees trying to leave the enclave, that has been suffering fuel shortages.

At least 6,650 people had crossed the border into Armenia by Monday evening, according to an Armenian government statement quoted by the Russian state news agencies, with over three thousand arriving in just several hours.

An adviser to the enclave’s ethnic Armenians leadership on Sunday told Reuters that virtually its entire population -- estimated at 120,000 -- would now leave. If they stayed, they would be "ethnically cleansed" by Azerbaijan, he said.

"Our people do not want to live as part of Azerbaijan," David Babayan, the adviser, told Reuters on Sunday. "Ninety-nine point nine percent prefer to leave our historic lands."

Reporters on the border reported dozens of civilian cars and other vehicles have been driving to the crossing since Sunday, when Azerbaijan begin permitting some people to exit. Reuters reported that groups of civilians in the region’s capital, called Stepanakert by Armenians, were seen loading and packing belongings onto buses. Armenian authorities said they are prepared for tens of thousands of families to flee.

Azerbaijan has blockaded Nagorno-Karabakh for nine months prior to last week's offensive and controls the only main route out. On Sunday it allowed the first civilians to leave, reportedly escorted by Russian peacekeepers.

Azerbaijan launched an offensive last week that in just two days of fighting defeated the ethnic Armenia authorities in the enclave, who laid down their arms and agreed to disband their military forces. Nagorno-Karabakh is recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians for most of the last 35 years following a bloody war between Armenia and Azerbaijan amid the break up of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of thousands of Azerbaijani civilians were also driven out of Karabakh by Armenian forces during the war in the 1990s.

Azerbaijan reopened the conflict in 2020, launching a full-scale war that decisively defeated Armenia and forced its government to largely abandon its claims to it. Last week's new offensive, that killed and wounded hundreds, finally defeated the enclave's ethnic Armenian authorities, restoring Azerbaijan's control.

Amid the crisis, Samantha Power, the head of USAID and a vocal campaigner on human rights, landed in Armenia's capital on Monday.

"At this important moment for the country and region, I’m here to reiterate the U.S.'s strong support & partnership with Armenia and to speak directly with those impacted by the humanitarian crisis in Nagorno-Karabakh," Power wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The U.S. and other western countries have expressed concerns for the ethnic Armenians in the enclave, warning Azerbaijan it must ensure their security and rights.

Azerbaijani troops have been halted on the edge of the enclave's capital since end of the offensive, during which Azerbaijan already seized a number of villages and cut off roads leading to some. Power cuts and shortages of food, medicine and water have been reported, with thousands of displaced people sheltering in the city.

Azerbaijan has said it wants to “reintegrate” the Armenian population but has not presented any plan for doing so or for safeguarding their rights. In areas of Nagorno-Karabakh that it has previously retaken, Azerbaijan has encouraged Azerbaijanis to come resettle and some Armenian cultural sites have been erased or damaged.

Azerbaijan's president Ilham Aliyev on Monday hosted Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has strongly backed Azerbaijan, including providing weapons and military advisors. The two met in Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan enclave, which is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by southern Armenia and that Aliyev has threatened to use force to reconnect with a corridor.

"I am certain that the process of integration of the Armenian population of Karabakh will go successfully," Aliyev said at the meeting, according to the Russian news agency TASS. He added that all residents of the enclave were "Azerbaijan citizens."

A second round of talks between Azerbaijan and Karabakh Armenian leadership was held on Monday in the Azerbaijani city of Yevlakh, in which the sides reportedly discussed establishing facilities for urgent medical in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Russians committing rape, 'widespread' torture against Ukrainians, UN report finds

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(NEW YORK) -- Russian forces are allegedly committing continuous war crimes in Ukraine, including rape and "widespread and systematic" torture, the latest Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine found.

The Russians are allegedly torturing people accused of being Ukrainian army informants in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and in one case, the torture was so extreme that it caused a victim's death, the commission said in its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on Monday.

One torture survivor said, "Every time I answered that I didn't know or didn't remember something, they gave me electric shocks," according to the commission.

"Well into the second year of the armed conflict, people in Ukraine have been continuing to cope with the loss and injury of loved ones, large-scale destruction, suffering and trauma as well as economic hardship that have resulted from it," Eric Mose, chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, wrote in the report. "Thousands have been killed and injured, and millions remain internally displaced or out of the country."

In the Kherson region, members of the Russian forces allegedly sexually assaulted women as their relatives were forced to listen from nearby rooms, the commission said. Sexual assault victims ranged in age from 19 to 83.

The commission also found evidence of "unlawful attacks with explosive weapons," including attacks on residential buildings, shops, a restaurant and a medical facility.

Konstantin Yefremov, a senior Russian army lieutenant who fled Russia, told ABC News in February he witnessed his country's troops torture prisoners in Ukraine, including beating and threats to rape.

Yefremov, 33, spent three months as an officer in Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region and said he personally witnessed the torture of Ukrainian prisoners during interrogations, including the shooting of one POW in the arms and legs and threats of rape.

The commission stressed "the need for accountability" for Russia's "scale and gravity of violations," as well as "the need for the Ukrainian authorities to expeditiously and thoroughly investigate the few cases of violations by its own forces."

ABC News' Patrick Reevell contributed to this report.



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US border agency chief meets with authorities in Mexico over migrant surge

Manuel Augusto Moreno/Getty Images

(CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico) -- The U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Sunday that the agency's top official has met with authorities in Mexico to work on ways to better secure their shared border.

Acting CBP Commissioner Troy Miller traveled to Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city on the Rio Grande, just south of El Paso, Texas, where he met with senior officials from the Mexican government and the railway industry on Friday.

During those discussions, Miller "urged coordination of efforts to diminish surging irregular migration, and continuation of lawful trade and travel while reiterating the need for coordinated engagement -- to include mirrored patrols with local Mexican law enforcement agencies," CBP said in a press release.

Miller also "noted his appreciation for the continuing attention to dangerous migrant travel aboard railcars" and "discussed the impact that increased resource needs being devoted to processing inadmissible noncitizens has on CBP's enforcement mission and operations at the ports of entry," according to the press release.

"We are continuing to work closely with our partners in Mexico to increase security and address irregular migration along our shared border," Miller said in a statement Sunday. "The United States and Mexico remain committed to stemming the flow of irregular migration driven by unscrupulous smugglers, while maintaining access to lawful pathways."

On Saturday, CBP announced the resumption of operations at the international railway crossing bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas.

The United States has been grappling with a surge of unauthorized crossings of migrants at its southwestern border after so-called Title 42 restrictions expired in May, when the federal government lifted the national public health emergency for COVID-19. The restrictions were a pandemic-related immigration policy that allowed the U.S. to swiftly turn back migrants at its border with Mexico for the last three years in the name of protecting public health.

Many of the migrants are fleeing poverty and hardship in their home countries in Central and South America, but some are coming from as far as Asia.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News' Matt Rivers, airing Monday on Good Morning America, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens said he believed the thousands of migrants who arrived in Eagle Pass, Texas, last week were by design. Organized crime draws the law enforcement focus there, he said, making it easier to smuggle people elsewhere.

"In terms of flow and the threats that we're seeing with fentanyl and with the criminal organizations that are our adversary, it's about as bad as I've ever seen it," Owens told ABC News.

Owens wants more agents and resources in response to the surge, hoping something will change. He said his agency's ability to respond to the current amount of migrants at the border "isn't sustainable."

"This is up and down the system," he added. "Everybody is overwhelmed."

ABC News' Luke Barr and Matt Rivers contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Canada House speaker apologizes for praising Ukrainian veteran who fought for Nazis

DAVE CHAN/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Canada's House of Commons speaker apologized for praising a Ukrainian veteran who fought for a Nazi unit.

During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to the Canadian parliament on Friday, speaker Anthony Rota called 98-year-old veteran Yaroslav Hunka a "hero."

Hunka, who was in the crowd and received two standing ovations, served as a member of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS before retiring to Canada.

Jewish human rights groups raised concern, with The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center calling the praise shocking and outrageous, claiming that Hunka's military unit was implicated in the mass murder of Jews and others.

"There should be no confusion that this unit was responsible for the mass murder of innocent civilians with a level of brutality and malice that is unimaginable," a statement by FSWC reads.

On Sunday, the speaker issued an official apology.

"I have subsequently become aware of more information which causes me to regret my decision," Rota said. "I particularly want to extend my deepest apologies to Jewish communities in Canada and around the world."

He also took on full responsibility for admitting and praising the veteran in the Canadian Parliament, saying that no one among the Ukrainian delegation or the fellow parliamentarians knew about his plans or remarks beforehand.

The opposition however has called for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize and investigate. Trudeau's office said that Rota's apology was "the right thing to do" and that he acted alone.

The 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division, also known as the Galicia Division, was a voluntary unit made up mostly of ethnic Ukrainians under Nazi command.

Although the unit has not been found guilty of any war crimes by a tribunal, its members are accused of killing Jewish civilians, BBC News reported.

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Molotov cocktails tossed at Cuban Embassy in Washington, minister says

Craig Lovell/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The Embassy of Cuba in Washington, D.C., was "the target of a terrorist attack," when two Molotov cocktails were tossed at the building on Sunday night, according to Cuba's Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla.

Embassy staff "suffered no harm" and "details are being worked out," Rodríguez Parrilla said on social media.

"Terrorist attack against the Cuban embassy in the United States. The Cuban Embassy staff have not been injured," the embassy said in a statement.

The Molotov cocktails tossed on Sunday amounted to the second violent attack on the embassy since April 2020, when "an individual shot several rounds against the embassy using an assault rifle," Rodríguez Parrilla said.

"The anti-Cuban groups resort to terrorism when feeling they enjoy impunity, something that Cuba has repeatedly warned the US authorities about," he said.

The Embassy of Cuba reopened in 2015, when formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were normalized.

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Iran president's wife denies UN findings that protesters were killed in turmoil after Mahsa Amini's death

ABC News

(TEHRAN) -- In a new interview, the wife of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi repeated claims by her country's officials that the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last fall was the result of a preexisting illness -- which Amini's family vigorously disputes, believing instead that she was beaten in custody after being arrested by Iran's notorious morality police for not wearing her hijab properly.

Speaking with ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz in an interview that aired Sunday, Jamileh Alamolhoda defended Iran's approach to requiring headscarves for women in public while seeking to minimize the crackdown on protests sparked by Amini's death.

"She was loved by all of us. I'm a mother myself, and I do understand that -- the value of girls and women as a whole," Alamolhoda said.

She also claimed that she was in "constant contact" with "all of the medical personnel" involved in Amini's case.

Since last year, massive protests of thousands have roiled Iran in what some international observers believe mark the biggest threat to the government's authority since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Those demonstrations have also been met with a sharp response.

According to the U.N., some 500 people, including 71 children, have been killed by Iranian security forces and police. But Alamolhoda disputed those figures, telling Raddatz the protests were "a big lie" while blaming the uprising on the U.S.

"I do think things can happen of that nature in any country, naturally," she said. "However, in our country, they are turned into political projects and those are fundamentally because of the intentions of foreign governments whom are keen to see other events occur in Iran."

"So no one was killed?" Raddatz pressed. "No one was executed because of those protests? Is that what you're saying?"

"Many were killed, but in defending the Islamic Republic of Iran," Alamolhoda said.

Alamolhoda is the most public-facing wife of an Iranian president since the revolution five decades ago that brought about Iran's modern government. She comes from an ultra-conservative family, has two daughters with her husband and holds a PhD.

Raddatz pressed Alamolhoda on her opinion of a law passed last week by Iran's parliament that imposes harsher punishments on women who violate the country's hijab laws. Under the new legislation, violators face up to 10 years in prison.

Alamolhoda did not directly answer the question initially, only comparing the law to "dress codes everywhere."

"You have dress codes everywhere, even here in university environments, in schools and everywhere else," Alamolhoda said. "And I need to tell you that hijab was a tradition, was a religiously mandated tradition, accepted widely. And now for years it has been turned into a law. And breaking of the law, trampling upon any laws, just like in any country, comes with its own set of punishments."

Raddatz followed up.

"There are women who believe it is repressive. While they respect those who choose to wear the hijab, they don't want to be forced to wear the hijab. What do you think the punishment should be?" she asked.

"I do not specialize in law," the president's wife responded. "So I cannot ... answer you on a professional level. But punishments are equally dispensed to any breaking of the law throughout many countries."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Africa's white rhino population rebounds for 1st time in a decade, new figures show

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(LONDON) -- African rhino populations are increasing despite poaching and habitat loss, new figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) show.

The new figures, released Thursday, highlight that protection and biological management initiatives across the continent have resulted in black rhino populations rising by 4.2% to a population of 6,487, and white rhino populations rising by 5.6% to a population of 16,803.

It is the first time since 2012 that there has been an increase in the white rhino population, the species classified as 'near threatened' on the IUCN's Red List of threatened species.

"With this good news, we can take a sigh of relief for the first time in a decade," said Dr. Michael Knight, chair of the IUCN's Rhino Specialist Group (AfRSG). "However, it is imperative to further consolidate and build upon this positive development and not drop our guard."

According to the World Wildlife Fund, there were 500,000 rhinos in Africa and Asia at the start of the 20th century. By the end of 2022, the African rhino population stood at just 23,290 according to latest figures by the IUCN.

However, thanks to "intense" and heightened protection and management efforts over the years, rhino populations on the continent are beginning to rebound.

"The rebounding rhino populations aren't just a win for rhinos, but for the many wildlife species that share their ecosystems and the people who steward these lands," Nina Fascione, Executive Director at the International Rhino Foundation, told ABC News.

"The growing rhino populations are a testament to the effectiveness of collaborative conservation efforts throughout Africa and the resilience of these species."

Poaching, however, remains the biggest threat to all rhino species, as highlighted in the 2023 State of the Rhino report; poachers changing their tactics, focusing attention from the largest rhino population to more susceptible ones.

South Africa -- home to the continent's largest rhino population -- has suffered "devastating poaching losses" as poachers target its reserves.

"Large, protected areas like Kruger National Park in South Africa have also greatly increased security measures to reduce the number of poaching incursions on their land," says the International Rhino Foundation. "Poachers have reacted by targeting other, smaller areas, like province-run Hluhluwe Imfolozi Game Reserve, which has borne the brunt of South Africa's rhino poaching deaths in the past year."

Namibia -- home to the world's largest black rhino population -- saw a devastating 93% increase in rhino poaching from 2021 to 2022.

In January, the U.S. treasury secretary announced the launch of a joint U.S.-South Africa anti-poaching taskforce to combat poaching, and increase sharing of financial intelligence units to support law enforcement agencies and disrupt illicit trade.

"We must follow the money in the same way we do with other serious crimes," Yellen announced whilst touring South Africa's Dinokeng Game Reserve.

Climate change also poses a growing risk to Africa's rhino population as it's devastating impacts on human communities has a ripple effect on wildlife and increases the risk of human-wildlife conflict.

"Competition over water resources may also cause increasing strife and disruption between communities and between humans and wildlife, bringing people in ever closer contact with rhinos," says the IRF. "Poverty resulting from loss of crops and livestock may lead to increased poaching as a way to earn income."

In early September, conservation group African Parks Foundation announced they are set to release 2,000 rhinos into the wild following the purchase of one of the world's largest private captive rhino farms, Platinum Rhino.

It is set to be Africa's largest rewilding programs of any species, set to take place over the next 10 years.

Only two surviving members of the critically endangered northern white rhino subspecies remain in the world -- Najin and Fatu -- both living under 24-hour protection in Kenya's Ol-Pejeta Conservancy.

"Continuing a positive population trend for both black and white rhinos will require enormous efforts by governments, land managers, community members and others to ensure conservation actions surpass poaching," says Fascione. "Rhinos have been around for millions of years -- we cannot let them go extinct on our watch."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Canada-India relations strain over killing of Sikh separatist leader

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(LONDON) -- The diplomatic breach between Canada and India over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader near Vancouver has widened as both countries expelled one of the other's diplomats and India suspended visa processing for Canadian citizens.

Ties between the two countries, which are close security and trade partners and U.S. allies, strained after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday that investigators were actively probing "credible allegations" about the potential involvement of Indian government agents in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

India's Ministry of External Affairs quickly rejected Trudeau's allegations, calling them "absurd" and accusing Canada of sheltering "terrorists and extremists" who "continue to threaten India's sovereignty and territorial integrity," according to a statement.

Nijjar, who lived in Canada for over 20 years and advocated for Sikh independence while running a plumbing business, was gunned down on June 18 in front of a temple in Surrey, near Vancouver. In 2020, the Indian government had classified him as a terrorist belonging to a banned militant group, accusations that Nijjar and his followers always denied.

Canada is home to the largest Sikh population outside of India. According to Statistics Canada, the North American nation is home to 1.35 million Indians who make up around three percent of Canada's population.

In a notice posted on Thursday on BLS International, India's visa application center in Canada, the center announced it is suspending visa services for Canadians "until further" notice due to "operational reasons, with effect from 21 September 2023."

India's Ministry of External Affairs also issued an advisory for Indian Nationals and students in Canada, urging them to "exercise utmost caution" due to "growing anti-India activities and politically-condoned hate crimes and criminal violence in Canada."

ABC News has reached out to India's Ministry of External Affairs for comment.

"We are not looking to provoke or cause problems, but we are unequivocal about the rule of law and unequivocal about protecting Canadians and standing up for our values," Trudeau told reporters at the United Nations on Thursday.

"That is why we call upon the government of India to work with us to establish processes, to uncover the truth of the matter and allow justice and accountability to be served," he said.

In response to the row, U.S. top national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that there are "no exceptions" for actions like this.

"Regardless of the country, we will stand up and defend our basic principles and we will also consult closely with allies like Canada as they pursue their law enforcement and diplomatic process," Sullivan said.

Canada-India relations have grown significantly in recent years, with the Canadian government announcing that bilateral trade in goods reached nearly 12 billion Canadian dollars in 2023 - an increase of 57 percent from the previous year.

Now, pressure is mounting for the Canadian government to share more of the evidence for its "credible allegations," especially as some of the evidence reportedly came from Five Eyes allies, an intelligence-sharing network that includes the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the CBC reported this week, citing Canadian government sources.

It's unclear whether the Nijjar question was already brought up at the recent G20 summit in New Delhi. A few days later, Canada announced it was cancelling a trade mission to India planned for the fall.

ABC News' Victoria Beaule contributed to this report.

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It's a kayak with a grenade launcher. And it could be a game-changer in Ukraine.

Courtesy of Adamant Verf

(KYIV, Ukraine) -- In a quiet bay of the Dnipro River, a one-hour drive from Kyiv, a group of Ukrainian engineers and special forces soldiers tested what they believe can be a game-changer in the Ukrainian counteroffensive: the Poloz-M16 combat kayak.

What otherwise looks like the familiar watercraft has been redesigned for special military purposes – in the Kherson region, for example, where the front line parallels the wide Dnipro, with multiple islands between its banks.

"To design something like this you have to build boats for 30 years. That's what I've been doing," says Serhiy Ostashenko, CEO of the Adamant Verf company, which produces the kayaks. He designed the Poloz-M16 overnight, he said, after special forces soldiers came to him with a need, and an idea.

"Poloz-M16 is similar to what the American and British soldiers have been using, but it's ten times cheaper, around 2,500 dollars per item," Ostaschenko explained to ABC News.

Ukraine has two seas –- the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov – and around 3,000 rivers, so kayaks like the Poloz-M16 are a must-have, engineers and soldiers said.

The Poloz-M16 is designed not for assault but rather for covert operations. It's quiet, lightweight and maneuverable, with the ability to carry up to three people and 250 kilograms of cargo, around 550 pounds. It's also durable, made of a special polyethylene that can weather extreme temperatures, mechanical damage and last 50 years, or longer. The Poloz-M16 can be transported by a land vehicle or dropped onto the water from a helicopter. It can also be controlled on the water remotely.

What particularly makes the Poloz-M16 a combat kayak is a Ukrainian-produced NATO-type UAG-40 grenade launcher mounted in the bow, which can fire a projectile at a distance of up to just over a mile. A special mechanism absorbs the weapon's recoil, keeping the kayak stable on the water.

"So our Poloz is not afraid of any bulletproof speed boat. It can hide in the reeds and fire at the enemy like in a shooting range," Ostashenko said.

The combat kayaks have already proven themselves in action. In October of last year, Ukrainian soldiers used the Poloz-M16 in an operation on the Oskil River in the Kharkiv region. Sergiy, callsign Koyot, who took part in the operation, said he and the other soldiers conducted nighttime reconnaissance near Russian positions on the riverbank, transporting explosives and ultimately securing the passage of an assault group that forced Russian forces to retreat a dozen kilometers to the east.

The Poloz-M16 is just one of hundreds of things that Ukrainian specialists have created since the start of the Russian invasion, said Ostashenko. He and his engineering colleagues add that when you're short of conventional weapons, you have to be creative.

While some of the solutions might not see mass production, they're cheap and do the job. Others can be part of a powerful military tech industry that could involve billions of dollars in a few years, Mykhailo Fedorov, deputy prime minister of Ukraine, told the Ukrainian media platform Ukrinform earlier this year. Fedorov oversees digital transformation projects, and in particular what's called the Army of Drones: small, but which inflict painful strikes on Russian military bases and even large warships.

To help facilitate innovation that can in turn assist the Ukrainian military, the government created the BRAVE1 platform, where inventors meet investors and consumers. The platform features things like different types of drones, including those for clearing mines, as well as mobile stations, yacht radars turned into anti-UAV searchers, walkie-talkies that can't be jammed, ground robotic complexes, fire stations and more.

"Ukraine has been a large exporter of IT products. A lot of people are studying in this field, that's why it's time to turn into a country making products that are capitalized, work for the whole world and are worth billions of dollars," Fedorov recently said in nationally televised comments. "We will be the strongest in military-tech – that is, everything related to innovations in the military field. Cyber security, any physical security related to innovation, and protection of critical infrastructure facilities will also evolve."

"A competency that is unique in the world is already being born in Ukraine," Fedorov said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano dies at 98

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(LONDON) -- Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, the first in the country's history to be reelected to office, has died, according to the nation's press service ANSA. He was 98.

The former president, who served from 2006 until 2015, was the first in the country's history to be reelected to the office. He was the longest-serving and longest-lived president in the history of the modern Italian Republic.

He was also the first official from the Italian Communist Party to visit the United States. In 1978, he arrived in the U.S. to deliver a series of lectures at Harvard and other leading institutions.

The Naples-born politician came to be known as "Re Giorgio" ("King George") for providing stability amid the turbulence of Italian party politics and for ensuring a smooth transition of executive power.

Facing a deadlocked parliament in 2013, Napolitano reluctantly agreed to stay in office after his seven-year presidential term had expired. He stepped down in 2015.

Napolitano was seen by many as an "anti-Berlusconi" figure, with approval rates steadily around 80% across his long tenure. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who died in June, was elected three times and was regarded as a divisive figure.

Napolitano's critics however called him an "interventionist," pointing at the extremely active role he played in politics, while the Italian presidency has traditionally been a symbolic and non-executive office.

With over six decades of his life dedicated to politics, Napolitano contributed to Italian politics and government in many different roles, from being a leading figure in the Italian Communist Party to serving in the Italian and European Parliament. In 1992, he became the president of Parliament's Chamber of Deputies and from 1996 to 1998 he was the interior minister.

In 2005, he was appointed Senator for Life by former President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

He is survived by his wife Clio and his sons, Giulio and Giorgio.

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Iranian president's wife: Prison time for hijab law violations is 'out of respect for women'

ABC News

(LONDON) -- The wife of the president of Iran defended a law passed this week designed to impose harsher sentences on women who do not wear hijabs in public, comparing the rules to "dress codes everywhere" in an interview with ABC's "This Week."

You can see Martha Raddatz's full interview with Jamileh Alamolhoda on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday at 9 a.m. EDT.

Raddatz asked Alamolhoda about the subject, but the Iranian president's wife did not directly answer when asked about what the punishment for noncompliance should be.

"What do you think should happen to women who choose not to wear a hijab?" Raddatz asked.

"It is out of respect for women," Alamolhoda said. "It is natural in any country. There may be differences of opinion and viewpoints about dress codes. It comes back to their tastes, how they choose to live their lives and their social rights."

Alamolhoda drew comparisons between Iranian women facing a decade in prison for refusing to wear the religious symbol and workplace dress codes.

"You have dress codes everywhere, even here in university environments, in schools and everywhere else. And I need to tell you that hijab was a tradition, was a religiously mandated tradition, accepted widely. And now for years, it has been turned into a law. And breaking of the law, trampling upon any laws, just like in any country, comes with its own set of punishments," she said.

"What do you think the punishment should be?" Raddatz pressed further. "Because there are women who believe it is repressive. While they respect those who choose to wear the hijab, they don't want to be forced to wear the hijab. What do you think the punishment should be?"

"I do not specialize in law," the president's wife responded. "So I cannot ask you -- answer you on a professional level, but punishments are equally dispensed to any breaking of the law throughout many countries."

The public hijab requirement has faced pushback in the form of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" movement in which many women refuse to wear their hijabs in public.

"I feel that our mere presence on the streets is an act of resistance. Practicing everyday life as we want is a part of our revolution," Ava, a Tehran-based musician in her mid-20's, told ABC News earlier this year on condition of anonymity so she could speak freely about the movement.

At least 551 protesters, including 68 children and 49 women, have been killed since the start of the "Woman, Life, Freedom" protests, according to Iran Human Rights.

Raddatz sat down with Alamolhoda just a day after her husband delivered a fiery speech at the United Nations General Assembly and a year after massive protests erupted in the country after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in morality police custody following an alleged violation of Iran's hijab law.

ABC News' Somayeh Malekian contributed to this report.

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Three South African Navy personnel killed in submarine incident

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(LONDON) -- Three South African Navy personnel have been pronounced dead, and one senior officer remains in critical condition, following a deadly incident at sea off the coast of Cape Town, the South African Department of Defence has announced.

Crew from the South African Navy Submarine SAS Manthatisi were executing a "vertical transfer" of supplies with use of a South African Air Force Lynx helicopter on Wednesday afternoon when "high waves" swept seven submariners out to sea from the submarine deck.

“It is with deep sadness that the SANDF announces the tragic loss of three SA Navy submariners off Kommetjie on 20 September on board the SAS MANTHATISI,” the South African Department of Defence said in a statement.

“A distress call was made to Cape Town Radio who then dispatched the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) from Kommetjie,” the agency said. “All seven members were recovered but sadly there were three fatalities with one senior officer in critical condition.”

The vertical operation was immediately cancelled, with rescue efforts launched to retrieve the submariners.

“A surface swimmer was dispatched from the helicopter to assist with the rescue. Unfortunately, the recovery operation was negatively affected by rough sea conditions,” the statement continued.

The South African Department of Defence has announced the remaining crew members, including the surface swimmer dispatched to assist in the rescue operation, are receiving treatment in hospital.

Among the SAS Manthatisi crew pronounced dead is Lt. Cmdr. Gillian Elizabeth Hector -- South Africa’s first ever female submarine navigator with rank of lieutenant commander.

“An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the incident will be convened in due course,” announced the South African Department of Defence.

Known as the "Spring Tide," South Africa’s southern and southeastern coast has been hit with powerful waves and strong winds that have caused at least one death, dozens of injuries and widespread damage.

According to the South African Weather Service (SAWS), waves as high as 9.5 meters were recorded over the weekend, with social media videos showing waves battering seaside buildings and sweeping away vehicles.

“This high total water level in combination with meteorological and marine conditions resulted in the severe positive storm surge,” said the South African Weather Service in a statement. “These conditions have caused havoc to the South African coastline over the past weekend.”

The SAS Manthisi is one of three German-built Type 209/1400 Heroine-Class submarines in South Africa's Navy fleet. It was reported to be en route to Cape Town for a three-day Navy exhibition -- the SA Navy Festival -- which was to see active South African Navy vessels docked on the famous V&A Waterfront.

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Russia-Ukraine live updates: Russian missile strikes hit multiple Ukrainian cities

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(NEW YORK) -- Russia has continued a nearly 19-month-long invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Recently, though, the Ukrainians have gone on a counteroffensive, fighting to reclaim occupied territory.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Sep 21, 6:16 AM EDT
Ukraine claims large-scale strikes on Russian military base in Crimea

While Russia launched massive missile strikes across Ukraine overnight, Ukrainian forces have claimed to have attacked a Russian military base on the occupied Crimean Peninsula.

A source in Ukraine's security services told ABC News on Thursday that Ukrainian forces had hit the Saki airfield in Moscow-annexed Crimea, using an initial wave of drones to "overload" Russian air defense. Russian air force assets were then struck using Neptune missiles designed and produced by Ukraine, according to the source.

Multiple unverified videos of the Ukrainian attack were circulating online Thursday.

Sep 21, 5:54 AM EDT
Dozens of injuries reported after Russian strikes on multiple Ukrainian cities

Russian forces launched missile strikes on at least five Ukrainian cities from east to west late Wednesday and early Thursday, ahead of of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's planned meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.

Ukrainian state-owned grid operator Ukrenergo said it's the first major attack on the country's energy infrastructure in six months.

The Ukrainian capital of Kyiv was among the cities hit, along with Kharkiv, Kherson, Cherkasy, Rivne and Lviv.

Ukrainian authorities were still assessing the damage and casualties on Thursday morning, but dozens of injuries have been reported so far. At least seven people were injured by falling debris in Kyiv.

Meanwhile, rescue efforts were ongoing in the central city of Cherkasy to evacuate as many as 20 people believed to be trapped beneath the rubble of a hotel that was destroyed in the strikes overnight. Thirteen others were already rescued and at least nine were injured, according to Ukrainian officials

The overnight strikes also targeted energy infrastructure in the Rivne region and an industrial zone in the Lviv area.

Sep 21, 1:08 AM EDT
Russian forces strike Kharkiv, Kyiv overnight

Russian forces initiated six strikes on Kharkiv overnight, damaging civilian infrastructure, Ukrainian officials said early Thursday.

The mayor of Kyiv also said explosions occurred in the Ukrainian capital overnight. Debris from the downed rockets fell in the Darnytskyi and Holosiivskyi districts of the city.

Five people were hurt in the Darnytskyi district of Kyiv, where the strike also destroyed non-residential buildings. Three of them, including a 9-year-old girl, were hospitalized. Two were treated by medics on scene.

In the Shevchenkivskyi district of Kyiv, rocket debris damaged a gas pipe, an official said.

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'Humanity has opened the gates of hell,' UN Secretary-General says of climate urgency

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(NEW YORK) -- UN Secretary-General António Guterres delivered another speech critical of the failure to make progress on climate action. In the opening remarks for his Climate Ambition Summit, he said "humanity has opened the gates of hell" warning we are heading toward a "dangerous and unstable world."

"Our focus here is on climate solutions – and our task is urgent. Humanity has opened the gates of hell. Horrendous heat is having horrendous effects. Distraught farmers watching crops carried away by floods, sweltering temperatures spawning disease and thousands fleeing in fear as historic fires rage. Climate action is dwarfed by the scale of the challenge," Guterres said in his remarks.

"If nothing changes, we are heading towards a 2.8-degree temperature rise – towards a dangerous and unstable world."

Guterres set a high bar for world leaders set to speak at the summit, saying they must offer a significant new climate pledge. Major voices like the Unites States, the United Kingdom and China did not speak, although California Gov. Gavin Newsom had a scheduled slot at the summit.

"We must make up time lost to foot-dragging, arm-twisting and the naked greed of entrenched interests raking in billions from fossil fuels," Guterres said.

"The proposed Climate Solidarity Pact calls on major emitters – who have benefitted most from fossil fuels – to make extra efforts to cut emissions, and on wealthy countries to support emerging economies to do so."

Guterres also emphasized that the future is not fixed, and credited climate activists and Indigenous Peoples for their activism as well as business executives, mayors and governments who are taking major steps to phase out fossil fuels.

In an interview with Christiane Amanpour, Guterres admitted he has no power over the UN Security Council in forcing them to make decisions on the major issues like climate change but said using his voice and bringing people together is how he can make an impact.

"The Secretary-General of the United Nations has no power and no money, what we have is a voice and that voice can be loud, and I have the obligation for it to be loud," he told CNN.

"But the power is in the member states and the problem is the exercise of that power today is blocked. We have a level of division among superpowers that has no precedent since the second World War. Even in the Cold War things were more predictable than they are today."

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Zelenskyy avoids confrontation with Russian foreign minister in remarks before UN Security Council

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(NEW YORK) -- Volodymyr Zelenskyy avoided a potential face-off with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during the Ukrainian president's first in-person appearance before the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday.

Speaking via a translator, Zelenskyy called for Russia to be stripped of its veto power -- a move rendered virtually impossible by the structure of the U.N. charter.

"Since the start of the full-scale aggression launched by this state, which for some reason is still here among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, it has already been 574 days of pain, losses and struggle," Zelenskyy said at the top of the meeting. "Russia has killed at least tens of thousand of our people and turned millions into refugees by destroying their homes."

"The terrorist state is willing, through its aggression, to undermine all the grounds of international norms meant to protect the world from the wars," he continued.

Zelenskyy went on to say that the U.N.'s inability to meaningfully intervene in the conflict had greatly diminished its standing.

"The resolutions of the General Assembly have clearly recognized the fact that the only source of this war is Russia, but this has changed nothing for Russia in the United Nations. However, these are the situations that have changed everything for the U.N. We should recognize that the U.N. finds itself in a deadlock," Zelenskyy said, arguing the organization had become centered on "compromise with killers" and rhetoric instead of action.

"Humankind no longer hangs its hopes on the U.N.," he added.

Zelenskyy then outlined his peace plan but acknowledged it could not be implemented due to Russia's veto power.

The remarks come a day after Zelenskyy addressed the U.N. General Assembly and argued that the war is "not only about Ukraine." He emphasized that if Russia is allowed to get away with invading Ukraine, then no rule-abiding nation can consider itself safe from a similar attack or aggression in the future.

During Wednesday's Security Council meeting, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, criticized Zelenskyy speaking ahead of the other members of the Security Council, calling for him to speak after per protocols.

MORE: Biden offers support for Ukraine, stresses global unity in United Nations speech
"They're trying to transform [the Security Council] into a one-man stand-up show," Nebenzya said.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who chaired the meeting, pushed back, saying: "There is a solution for this, if you agree -- you stop the war, and President Zelenskyy will not take the floor."

Lavrov was not in the chamber during Zelenskyy's remarks.

In a long rebuttal via a translator, the foreign minister reiterated false claims that the West implemented a "coup" to install Zelenskyy as Ukraine's president as justification for Russia's invasion and that Moscow was forced to intervene in Ukraine to stop "the criminal actions of the Kyiv regime." He also suggested that the U.S. was still in control of Kyiv and could force Zelenskyy to participate in peace talks.

On the U.N. itself, Lavrov said it was nothing more than a tool for Washington to push its own agenda on the world but generally called for upholding its charter.

Zelenskyy was not in the chamber during Lavrov's rebuttal.

Prior to Lavrov's remarks, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke in support of Ukraine while blasting Russia, which he said is "committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine on an almost daily basis."

"It's hard to imagine a country demonstrating more contempt for the United Nations and all it stands for. This, from a country with a permanent seat on this council," Blinken said.

Blinken also argued that the U.N. could focus on supporting Ukraine and holding Russia accountable for its actions while addressing other pressing issues facing the world.

"We can and we must do both. We are doing both," he said, adding that the U.S. was the leading contributor on several critical fronts.

President Joe Biden is set to meet with Zelenskyy at the White House on Thursday as both men push Congress to approve $24 billion more in funding for Kyiv over the objections of some House Republicans.

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